The science behind Canada’s nuclear industry waste solution

Original post via Lucknow Sentinel.

The harsh reality we face is that we have a window of opportunity to mitigate the potential catastrophic consequences of climate change that confront our children, our grandchildren and many generations to come.

The climate change crisis is real. It impacts us all every day. According to the World Health Organization, more than seven million deaths are attributed to air pollution annually. From 1998-2017, more than 166,000 people died due to heatwaves, and floods affected more than two billion people worldwide during the same period.

In Canada, recent government reports indicate that both past and future warming is, on average, about double the magnitude of global warming. Climate change is not happening ‘somewhere else’, it’s happening right here in our own backyards. And it’s hard to even imagine the potential devastating impact of climate change if we fail to drastically reduce carbon emissions over the longer-term.

That’s where nuclear comes in. Nuclear power is the only energy source that delivers carbon-free, reliable energy 24 hours a day, and has historically been one of the largest contributors of carbon-free electricity globally. Along with wind, solar, and energy storage, nuclear has a vital role in our carbon free future. This is undisputable if we are to achieve Canada’s net-zero” carbon pollution goals by 2050.

That’s why I feel proud to be president of Women in Nuclear Canada (Win-Canada). I get a chance to make a difference in fighting climate change. Since 2004, Women in Nuclear Canada (WiN-Canada) has worked towards preparing women to take on leadership roles in the nuclear industry, helping fill the growing need for qualified workers in STEM and skilled trades in the nuclear industry, and supporting the public’s understanding around nuclear.

Understanding nuclear is key to making informed decisions. We know there are a lot of lingering misperceptions around nuclear energy. In fact, there are studies that indicate that for a lot of us a primary source of knowledge and influence is based on fictional pop-culture when it comes to nuclear.

A lot of people don’t necessarily know how and why nuclear energy is key to help fight climate change. But here are the facts. Nuclear power is a clean energy. It does not emit carbon or pollutants that harm human health and the environment. It has already displaced over 80 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year in Canada. That’s the same as removing 15 million cars from the road each year. In fact, nuclear has less lifecycle greenhouse emissions than solar power – and releases less radiation into the environment than any other major energy source.

It’s important to also understand the science and facts when it comes to managing waste for any major source of energy. I would like to address local concerns about where to bury Canada’s nuclear waste. We believe in the importance of any local community being fully informed before making a decision on whether it chooses to host a deep geologic repository site.

The Municipality of South Bruce along with Ignace, in Northern Ontario are the two finalists for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) plan for a waste site for Canada’s spent

fuel. The plan calls for used nuclear fuel to be contained and isolated in a deep geological repository, a system of engineered and naturally occurring barriers, indefinitely.

As a woman who works in the industry and as president of WiN-Canada, the first thing I would like to tell you is that our industry is safe. That’s not based on an opinion – it’s based on facts and science. Women in Canada’s nuclear industry work in this field by choice, and our members live in the communities surrounding industry sites because we know it’s safe.

Having worked primarily in nuclear throughout my career, what I can say is it is the safest place I’ve ever seen. Safety is the highest priority of any facility and is the priority of industry as a whole. The Canadian nuclear industry’s approach to waste is built on more than 65 years of experience. In that time, no member of the public has ever been harmed by the storage or transportation of radioactive waste.

Inevitably, all energy sources create waste – but the nuclear industry is the only energy industry that can account for all its waste. While some industries send their waste into the air, the nuclear industry’s waste is safely stored, managed and monitored in a highly regulated environment.

The entire process around identifying and building deep geological repository sites is led with a focus on protecting the environment and people. A site is never imposed on any community and is based on a collaborative partnership. The industry organizations that are involved are focused on working in partnership with the local community to ensure there is the right level of understanding to make informed decisions, based on science.

There is an immense amount of due diligence, research, scientific studies and consultation that goes into this process to maintain the local community’s best interests. There is also a commitment to processes that are transparent and allow for engagement and consultation with Indigenous and near-site communities as well as other stakeholders and communities-of-interest. This includes a focus around creating long-term economic development and opportunity within the local community.

Women in the nuclear industry are always conscious of the environmental legacy we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. Today we are staring at an unimaginable climate change crisis. And we know that nuclear-generated electricity is the only source of energy that provides reliable energy 24 hours a day with zero greenhouse gas emissions. For all of us, we must scientifically weight the pros and cons of all energy sources to the right and necessary informed decisions to protect our future.

Lisa McBride
Women in Nuclear Canada

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